Child food poverty, House of Commons, 24 May 2021

Whilst councils welcomed the support for children on free school meals and the £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit (UC), which helped to protect many families most at risk, the best way to support families long-term is with an integrated approach to addressing poverty and disadvantage. While we agree that Free School Meals (FSM) have a vital part to play, it is important that ‘food’ is not seen as the solution to ‘poverty’.


Key messages

  • Councils have worked tirelessly to support people with a range of vulnerabilities to continue to access food during the pandemic, which has pushed more people on low incomes into poverty. For instance, this year’s annual report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that poverty had risen considerably during the COVID-19 outbreak.  
  • Whilst councils welcomed the support for children on free school meals and the £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit (UC), which helped to protect many families most at risk, the best way to support families long-term is with an integrated approach to addressing poverty and disadvantage. While we agree that Free School Meals (FSM) have a vital part to play, it is important that ‘food’ is not seen as the solution to ‘poverty’.
  • We are open to exploring the need for expanding access to FSM but need to ensure it is affordable to Government and is reaching the right families. We do not agree that extending access to all families on UC is the right way to do this.
  • The LGA supports the “end holiday hunger” initiative and the Holiday Activity and Food Programme (HAF) is already starting to support this by providing food support in a way that also promotes wider health and wellbeing outcomes. However, the scheme is unlikely to see all eligible children participate and will not be suitable for everyone. It is vital that the HAF is integrated with wider approaches to addressing health inequalities and financial vulnerability.
  • We also support the expansion of Healthy Start vouchers, but more needs to be done to promote their availability. Take up has been low in the past and we recognise that more can be done locally to ensure parents are aware of the programme.
  • The Government should work with councils to ensure a properly resourced safety net that prevents families falling into crisis in the event of job losses or financial difficulties. This should include the restoration of Local Welfare Funding - to at least £250 million per annum - to enable a more locally led and preventative approach to addressing financial hardship.
  • The most effective routes out of poverty depend on ensuring that people can access sustainable, well-paid employment, affordable housing and inclusive financial support and services. Any successful approach to addressing food poverty needs to factor how food supply and affordability fit in to wider local economic strategies in skills, employment and infrastructure which councils are responsible for.
  • The LGA wants to work with Government to ensure councils have the long-term sustainable funding to do more planned preventative work to address underlying causes of hardship and disadvantage and provide support to all households who need it.

Free school meals

The Free School Meals (FSM) system is an important component of the support that is provided to low-income families and we support the universal provision at key-stage one. Quality provision is an important component of broader work to address health inequalities and support children’s learning. We would welcome further discussion of how FSM can be integrated as effectively as possible with wider approaches to supporting low income households, reducing health inequalities and improving social mobility. 

We are open to exploring the need for expanding access to FSM, but need to ensure it is affordable to Government and is reaching the right families. We do not agree that extending access to all families on UC is the right way to do this as we recognise it would be very expensive and may not target families as effectively as the means-test that is replacing the passporting from legacy benefits. A review of the means-test would therefore be welcome.

Holiday Activity Food Programme

The LGA supports the “end holiday hunger” initiative and the Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) is already starting to support this by providing food support in a context that also promotes wider health and wellbeing outcomes.

However, the scheme is unlikely to see all eligible children participate and will not be suitable for everyone. It is therefore vital that the HAF is integrated with wider approaches to addressing health inequalities and financial vulnerability.

With many households likely to be economically vulnerable for some time, we believe the best way to support families long-term is with sustainable local welfare funding, including the restoration of Local Welfare Funding - to at least £250 million per annum - to enable councils to focus on prevention alongside crisis provision.

National Food Strategy

We welcome the work of the National Food Strategy, particularly the emphasis on children in the Part One report. The LGA’s Resources Board and Children and Young People (CYP) Board are currently discussing how councils may be able to work together on taking recommendations forward.

The LGA recently published its Child-centred recovery report, which calls for the Government to work with councils to ensure a properly resourced safety net that prevents families falling into crisis in the event of job losses or financial difficulties.

Contact

Laura Johnson, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

laura.johnson@local.gov.uk